Seth Adams is a multi-talented comic book artist, illustrator, writer, and storyboard artist. With over 25 years of experience in the entertainment industry, Seth’s passion lies in the art of storytelling. He believes that “story” is the driving force behind our world, and his mission is to assist people in creating the most compelling and original narratives imaginable.
Seth’s artistic versatility is best witnessed through his adeptness with mixed media, both traditional and digital. His impressive client list and collaborators include industry giants such as Disney, ABC, Universal Studios, Dreamworks, Amazon Publishing, Image Comics, Source Point Press, and even The New York Times. We had the opportunity to pick his mind regarding his creative processes, inspiration, and his upcoming projects.
Comic Basics: Can you tell us about your journey as an artist and actor and how you developed your skills in both fields? Which came first, your love of visual storytelling or acting?
They’ve always been the two things I’m the most interested in since I was a kid. By the time I was five, my parents had done a pretty good job explaining that Harrison Ford played “Han Solo,” Lucas Arts made the pew pew, and Chuck Jones and a bunch of artists made Bugs Bunny talk. I think most of that education happened because I was VERY sensitive to film and television, and I needed to have the process of making it explained to me.
Or I’d stay up all night sobbing about the cruelty of “stormtroopers” shooting at my heroes. Some of my earliest memories are watching “Behind the Scenes” programs for “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars.” We only had two working television channels, so that was lucky. By the time I was in high school, I was able to choose some elective classes that mirrored my interests. Drama class and Art class.
It was supervised play doing things I wanted to do. I was an atrocious and combative student then, but the hours added up. I’ve always been doing some version of storytelling within those mediums ever since. Even to this day, I can find myself collaborating on projects with people I’ve known since I was 14.
After I graduated high school, I assumed I’d go straight into drawing comics. I was 17, and I had no other plans. I couldn’t afford to go to art school or college. In my portion of America, that was a time when, on your 18th birthday, it was time to move out of your parents house and figure it out on your own. Maybe a Walmart would open in your town, and you could get a night job stocking shelves so you could put yourself through community college. My parents believed in working hard and paying for your own life and schooling. That wasn’t a good fit for me. I didn’t even really know how to do that anyway. I couldn’t even afford a car.
If I wanted to eat, it was best to work in restaurants. I’m not complaining. It’s just how things were. I didn’t have social media to start comparing or judging my life. My dream was to become a good enough comic book artist to somehow go to one of the art studios being run by the Image guys: Extreme, Homage, Wildstorm, Top Cow. I wanted to get into an environment where I could learn how to make great comics. I was maybe two years too young and inexperienced, and that window of time where those studios were booming ended up being really short.
There wasn’t really an “online” yet, so I’d take a 10-hour train ride to the San Diego Comic-Con to show my portfolio and hope I could Jedi-Mind trick Rob Liefeld into letting me sleep on the floor of the homage studios in San Diego. To this day, I can’t get over the fact that Jim Lee will draw for several hours online, and anyone in the world can watch him lay down marks.
Back in the 90s, if I thought I could watch Jim Lee draw in real time, I would have lived on the street outside of wherever that was happening. The window of time where I could get a job as an inexperienced artist, maybe drawing backgrounds and learning on the job, turned out to be smaller than I anticipated. The comics market collapsed. There was a bubble that burst, and the artists that weathered that were the cream of the crop.
Fortunately, for me, in the long run, I had also started doing a lot of community theater. I was really falling in love with that craft and world. I was, and am still, an absolute film nerd, and enough events lined up that I moved to LA to study acting and go on auditions. I could bartend at night and afford an ongoing education one month at a time. I could still draw for fun and not have the pressure of trying to feed myself with it.
The acting side of my life is it’s own story, but it really took me around the world and expanded my life in a way that perhaps just soley drawing comics maybe wouldn’t have. It also taught me a long game. There are roles you can play in each decade of your life. I really don’t mind being a journeyman craftsperson.
I’m VERY happy on set acting and collaborating to tell stories in that way, but I also LOVE that I can spend the day on visual art without necessarily getting hired to play the part. Both crafts inform me, and they give gifts to each other. Maybe I’d be further along in a specific career if I only stuck to one, but I’m happy. I still feel like I have time. I’d be just as happy on set storyboarding as I would be playing a role. Whatever serves the story and project. I just want to work and learn with good people for a few more decades. I still feel new to all this. I still feel curious.
Over the years, you have diversified your portfolio quite a bit to include various forms of media. What were your inspirations and motivations behind this? Is it possible to survive in the current industry by only being a comic-book artist?
The diversification comes from both a sense of practical capitalism and the pursuit of what I think I personally might have to offer at any given moment. I certainly have friends that make a very healthy living working in comics. That not only survive, but thrive. The model is there.
I’m also cognisant of the fact that it’s one of the original gig-economy jobs, with all the inherent problems in that. Sequential art notoriously has some of the highest demands for the lowest payoffs. A comic-book artist can make a living, I see it everyday, but I still diversify. Both in what I want to eventually do within comics AND outside of it.
Tell us about your latest project, ‘Snow Owl,’ who is behind it, and where does the inspiration lie?
Snow Owl was an adaptation of a script for a short film that my wife wrote years ago after a particularly lucid nightmare. When Covid hit, I lost a major source of income but gained some autonomy and time. So Snow Owl was birthed out of that. It was our “Pandemic Baby.”
Snow Owl was self-published and backed via Kickstarter, was the work more rewarding than the work you’ve done with established names in the industry?
It was more rewarding and nerve-racking. It was rewarding because it was a project with my wife that we had total control over. One of the most satisfying aspects of comics for me is the DIY aspect. If you finish your comic it’s a finished product. Whether anyone is interested in reading it or not, who knows?
Could you share any challenges you’ve encountered in the context of both publishing and disseminating ‘Snow Owl’?
Publishing wasn’t particularly difficult. Just time-consuming to learn and execute. I found a printing partner that would fulfill Kickstarter orders. Gumroad is great for digital distribution. You can check it out here :https://sethadams.gumroad.com/l/SnowOwlGN
What are the things that you would have done differently?
The easy answer that most artists will give is to redraw the book. You learn a lot working on a 50-page book where you do everything from A to Z. I certainly learned I don’t find joy in the art of lettering. But I wouldn’t do anything differently. Making my own book was a learning opportunity and opened new doors for me.
Do you have plans to continue ‘Snow Owl’?
There are a couple publishers that have talked about publishing ‘Snow Owl’ in other international markets, which would be nice. I’d love to talk to some artists about doing variant covers. But the story itself has been completed and is self-contained.
Or perhaps some other comic series in the work?
I’d like to work on a more established property for a bit. That is definitely a goal. There are some properties out there that I think I’d be a good fit for. Of course I have to get “chosen” and hired. At the same time I am working on an idea for another creator-owned series that would be all mine, including the writing.
What is your opinion regarding the rise of A.I- based artwork and storytelling? Some artists welcome the challenge, while some shy away from it. Where do you stand?
This is surely the hottest question of the day. I really have had to rely on people much more well-versed and on the ground dealing with these AI companies. Jon Lam and I have the same artist rep, Kirby’s Comic Art, and I’m happy to be on any team that guy is on.
Jon is a real advocate for artists during this conversation. Based on his work, my understanding is that, at least as of now, the majority, if not all, of the AI generative work, is unethical. Machine learning was trained on stolen and unauthorized material. Jon comes armed with facts, so there isn’t even a debate, though he is willing to engage people’s “arguments” and assumes they are in good-faith.
I also think artists are catching a break with copyright laws and the fact that corporations are more interested in how AI can help their business in other ways as opposed to making fake Taylor Swift songs and facing the very human backlash to making moves like that. I just don’t see people clamoring for AI-produced comic books. Those exist, for sure, but I still know a large amount of collectors that are resentful that so many artists started Inking and colouring in photoshop DECADES ago. If there isn’t a market with paying customers, it’s the end of the story.
So where do I stand? I believe, perhaps foolishly, that human beings are interested in each-other’s stories and creations. I don’t think I’m in the minority with that belief. For example, if I hear music I like, I want to know more about the artists that made the music. If I see a performance by an actor I enjoy, I want to know more about them and the rest of their work.
I follow the work of artists, novelists, filmmakers, writers, producers, etc. Humans. Maybe those humans will find some assistance doing their work by using AI. But as an artist and collaborator, I’m way more interested in working with people whose work I admire than with a machine.
I know that capitalism and “tech bros” want MORE from creators for LESS. But I, like many people, am also fascinated by the process. I love learning HOW people create things. The mistakes, the wandering paths, the serendipity that comes from the engagement of someone’s heart and mind and world. The “tech bros” like to talk about that process as if it’s wasteful or gate-keeping.
For me, the process is the reason to do any work at ALL. I think there is still magic that only people can make. The kind of magic that may not be helped very much by a machine. I don’t really care what the machine tells you would be the best thing to say or make. I’m interested in what only YOU can do. Or what we can do together.
I think AI will change so much about the world that maybe our own personal Black Mirror-individual-content created just for you will be the least of our problems or joys. In the meantime, I continue to be interested in what humans create WITHOUT machine learning.